Sara Mercier, 31, and Émilie Fortier, 30, didn't attend the second anniversary memorial at Lac-Mégantic's Sainte-Agnès church at noon on Monday.
Less than an hour before a moment of silence fell upon the town, they quickly walked in and out to see if anything was happening, but said staying there for the 47 tolls would be too much.
"I think it would be too moving," Ms. Mercier said, adding that she lost her home, her friends, a family member and co-workers in the derailment that destroyed the city's downtown core. "Maybe it would be good for me, but I think the emotions would be too much."
It's been two years since the air brakes of an unmanned Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Inc. train failed and began to roll into town, skipping a bend in the track and exploding in its centre. The derailment killed 47 of Lac-Mégantic's 5,900 citizens, spilled 5.5 million litres of crude oil over the earth and lake, and caused physical and psychological scars that still need time to heal.
In two years, a new downtown was built, but for Ms. Mercier, it's "too much, too quickly. It's a big, fancy Band-Aid on our wound."
Gilles Fluet, 67, didn't think he'd be able to go either. He is a survivor who left the Musi-Café minutes before the explosion. "I feel stuck when it comes to the funerals and [ceremonies]," Mr. Fluet said in his home about an hour before the memorial.
"The memorial has several impacts [for people like me] because it brings them back to square one," he said. "It'll make people think about how they are affected by this tragedy, and maybe it'll bring them to get help if they need it."
Mr. Fluet keeps a pile of newspapers in his living room. He's drawn his escape route on the fiery pictures from that day. Reliving his experience by talking with therapists and neighbours helps him move forward, to understand what happened. His post-traumatic stress symptoms were too harrowing not to.
One of the two friends who lived the trauma with Mr. Fluet on July 6, 2013, knocked on his door this year and convinced him to come to the memorial. But she said she didn't feel like speaking to reporters. "Not today – I didn't sleep very well," she said. "I woke up at 1:15 a.m., [the time the train rolled in]. It was weird."
At Sainte-Agnès, the bells chimed at noon, at first like a song, before a moment of silence. The bells then started up again in a purposeful pace: slowly, one by one, for each of the people who died.
A flood of citizens stood in the grass at the base of the church entrance, their backs to the silenced construction site behind them, while those who lost loved ones stood on the steps, facing the town centre. As the bells tolled, silent tears turned to sobs. People held each other. They looked around, misty-eyed, unsmiling.
Before his final words, parish priest Gilles Baril took a baby from the crowd and held her high, gesturing a sign of the cross with the child in his hands. "I asked [her grandmother] to hold her, to help remind us to keep looking to the future," he says.
Father Baril, who led the memorial, admitted that at first the parish was unsure what to offer the community on this anniversary, "but we said to ourselves, 'We can't do nothing.' " He estimates at least 300 people stood together to remember Lac-Mégantic's 47 victims on Monday. At a church service the day before, 800 people lined his pews.
Supporting the citizens of Lac-Mégantic on their spiritual journey, Father Baril says he's noticed that, although the town continues to grieve and rebuild, there is "a real desire to move forward, for an end to our painful suffering over what happened."
Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche stood nearby, shaking the hands of families on the church steps as people drifted away. She said the memorial's simplicity was welcome after the tumultuous two years that Lac-Mégantic residents survived.
"I felt – I'll speak for myself personally – I felt peace among people here. It was calm. It resembles how, for the past two years, people have handled this," Ms. Roy-Laroche said.
"[This] is a symbolic place," she added, gesturing to the demolition site, where the construction resumed after the silence.
Editor's Note: Corrects a typo in a previous version of this story, specifying it was 5.5 million litres of crude oil that was spilled